Family Matters back up and running after programs forced to close for summer
© Heather Killen
Programming is back to normal at Family Matters in Lawrencetown. Rising costs and lack of additional funding forced summer layoffs and suspended programming.
By Heather Killen
Things are starting to get back to normal at Family Matters.
Wendy Knowlton, executive director at the Lawrencetown-based family resource centre, says families have been eagerly signing up for the programs being offered this fall.
For the past few months, office hours were reduced at the centre and lay-offs forced the playgroups and family programs to be suspended for about 150 families in six locations across the county.
“It’s been stressful for the families and the staff,” she admits. “But we’re coming together as a team, moving forward, and trying to figure out what to do next year. The community support has been the silver lining in this, finding out what we mean to the families.”
While the centre received the usual amount of funding from the province this year, Knowlton said given the rising cost of living, it wasn’t enough to keep the doors open throughout the summer months.
For the past few years they were able to ‘squeak by’ with no closures, but this year there was nothing left to cut, or fall back on. As a result, Knowlton says the playgroups and usual activities were dropped from July 1 through Labour Day.
Unless something changes over the next several months, the same level of funding is apt to result in the same suspensions and lay-offs next year.
Additional funding had been awarded to the group to establish an agency to help people start their own home-based daycare programs she added, but this funding was specific to that new initiative and couldn’t be used to subsidize other programs and services.
Earlier this year the province announced a new initiative that promises to integrate children’s services and programs, by moving centers under a newly formed early years branch of the Department of Education.
This aims to shift the programs away from Community Services and bring the programs under one new department. Knowlton says that so far the pilot projects have resulted in a number of “early years centres” including ones in Yarmouth, Halifax, and Antigonish that are based out of schools.
Knowlton says she isn’t confident that this new model will be as effective in rural areas like Annapolis, where transportation isn’t always available for young children in the outlying areas.
She added that one of the ways her centre is so effective is that it provides outreach programs and playgroups in six locations throughout the county, with transportation provided to families living outside Bridgetown, Annapolis Royal, and Middleton.
Ramona Jennex, minister of education and early childhood development, said in an earlier interview that this is a transition year for the early years initiative and in the meantime, the government will maintain the same funding levels to the resource centres as before.
The budget line has been set by Community Services, she added. The long-term goal is to bring the resources and services for children under one umbrella. Other goals of this initiative will provide comprehensive screening for children at 16 months and 36 months.
Liberal leader Stephen McNeil promised last week that if his party wins the fall election, it will invest $2 million into family resource centres to offer more direct support and services to families.
“The additional financial investment will help infants and children get the best possible start in life which in turn fosters future learning once they enter the public school system,” says McNeil. “This investment is paramount to ensure children develop physically, socially, and mentally.”
The Progressive Conservatives also agree that giving children an early advantage is a strong investment in the province’s future, promising to provide a province-wide early learning program within 10 years, investing at least $5 million.